These guns are hot!

This international – aka “let’s fly around the world and play boring football to make money for FIFA and contract COVID or get injured” – break couldn’t come at a worse time. The Arsenal are hot, our guns are glowing bright red, we are spitting fire and setting the entire forest of the Premier League ablaze!* The last thing we need is some Gianni Infantino to go pouring cold water on our hot guns! That could cause us to break and we don’t need any more broken cannon stories!

Before I get into the hot guns topic, a note on the referee in yesterday’s match. Refereeing is a topic I am reticent to discuss because so many people A) believe that the refs are against their team (every club’s fans think this, even United) and/or B) believe that “the standard of refereeing is appaling in (England/Germany/Italy/whatever country your club plays in)” and/or C) don’t understand the laws of the game or get that the laws of the game are almost entirely subjective, which means that almost any call that a referee makes is usually the right call and that the most we can realistically say is “I wouldn’t have called it that way” which makes any argument about how a referee calls a game almost entirely moot.

That said, I opened up this can of disgusting worms last week with my post on how Arsenal are one of the most penalized teams in the League. Now maybe it’s the case that we are just really bad, like we are the broad street bullies of the Premier league and because I’m an Arsenal supporter I just can’t see it – I’m blinded by my bias. I’m willing to admit that’s possible. However, I am also generally a reasonable person who tries very hard to see all sides of a story and tend to think of myself as being somewhat objective. For example, in yesterday’s match, I thought Lacazette was kind of lucky to get away with a stamping type tackle early in the game. If I was the ref I would have given him a yellow card. He wasn’t even called for a foul.

But I have to admit that I’m struggling to understand how Danny Rose stayed on the pitch after his clothesline tackle on Lacazette a few minutes later. I can’t think of another sport where that type of action isn’t punished to the fullest extent of the law. In rugby it’s called a “high tackle” and is a red card. In American football it’s called a “clothesline” and while it isn’t specifically outlawed it falls under “unnecessary roughness” and is often punished with a penalty and a fine. In basketball it’s a flagrant foul and usually a flagrant 2, which means ejection. It’s just an action that nearly every sport, nearly every referee, just doesn’t want players to make because it’s incredibly dangerous. And I can guarantee that Rose would have been sent off if Lacazette had needed to be carted off the pitch. As it stands, he didn’t even get a yellow card.

But that’s not how the laws of the game should be called. We shouldn’t have to have a player injured to have some justice. It just should have been a red card and I don’t care if that meant double-jeopardy because it would have been a red card and a penalty, the tackle was that atrocious.

Football needs to take head and neck injuries much more seriously. I know that “back in the day” players were tossed bricks and expected to head them so hard that they exploded into little pieces. And players were often just lined up and kicked in the head, full strength, because they were such manly men and all. But have you ever considered that maybe all of that head trauma explains why so many of the older generation of football pundits, reporters, and coaches are so stupid? Maybe if you all stopped letting players undercut a man in the air so that he lands on his head, or stopped guys like Danny Rose from using his arm to bash people in the skull, you wouldn’t have had Brexit. Just a thought.

I guess I should just be happy that the referee gave us a penalty. We aren’t normally awarded many pens in a season and usually have a lot of pens awarded against us. So, winning a penalty (which was a stonewall pen) was good!

The bad part was how Aubameyang missed, again. I hate to harp on him about this but that’s his second missed penalty this season (he’s 0/2) and I think it’s time he gives up his penalty taking duties. Personally I would give them to Lacazette as the first choice but if he’s just been hit in the head I think I would go with Saka next. Why Saka? Because he needs to score some pens after that miss in the Euro finals. We can’t have him running around with that weight on his shoulders. Practice pens, then go score some. And if he doesn’t want to take them, I guess that’s fine. Let’s let Bird Catcher take them, he’s a cheeky little guy.

We also got a bit of luck yesterday to get the win. There was a moment that Aaron Ramsdale will probably want to forget but shouldn’t. He came way out, called Ben White to leave the play alone, then totally blew the tackle, gifting a huge chance to Josh King. Thankfully, Josh King has been taking a lot of heading practice and his shot was hilariously bad.

Ok, now the main topic: Arsenal have pretty much turned our season around and like I said at the start of this post we are on frikin fire, (non-gender specific) guys! Arteta has earned 20 points in the last 8 matches and rocketed this club all the frikin way up to 5th place! Not only that but Arsenal have scored 13 goals in the last 8 matches and only conceded 4.

Arsenal could be real contenders for a top four finish this season, with 5 teams in contention for that last spot. 538 has Arsenal getting 59 points and finishing 6th behind WHam and ManU with a 20% chance of finishing top 4. That’s a massive improvement over just a few weeks ago when they had Arsenal finishing 10th, with 51 points.

Maybe you’re someone who is unable to pick up when I’m being sarcastic? Ok, here comes the cold water on the hot guns then.

So, if I look at this season’s matches played and compare them to last season’s exact same fixtures Arsenal are actually 3 points worse off. I mean.. we got 61 points last season and 538 predicts we will get 59 this season. Even if we get the same number of points as last season (61) we still probably finish 5th.

And look, the underlying stats aren’t any rosier. In this last run of 8 matches, because Arsenal fans love an arbitrary start and stop date for analysis, we have an xG of 12.4 and xGa of 8.4. That is a slight improvement, however, over last season’s comparable matches where we had an xG of 10.9 and xGa of 7.5. So, I guess it’s not entirely terrible? But it’s not top 4 form, not in a regular year it isn’t.

And when I look at the arbitrary actual goals for and against we have improved the defense by about twice as much and kept the (pretty poor) attack about the same. Last year in the 8 matches we scored 12 and conceded 8, this year we have scored 13 and conceded 4.

Bottom line is that we played these same teams about the same last year as we did this year but haven’t conceded as many goals because Aaron Ramsdale has saved us and because the teams we’ve played just failed to score.

Now, the good news (because you need some good news after I just poured water on your hot gun) is that this replica set of matches almost all (all but Fulham/Brentford away and Chelsea home) happened toward the end of last season. That means that for folks who believe that Arsenal were really a top four team in the last 22 matches of the season, we are sort of proving them right. And for folks like me who didn’t believe that we were a top four team because I didn’t use an arbitrary date which vastly improved our numbers because it included 3 matches against relegation-bound sides and instead used the 19 fixtures which meant that we played against every team once, it looks like we are going to be a slightly improved team but not top four.

Let’s just put it another way. Fourth place isn’t impossible. The modern minimum number of goals scored to get into the top four is 58. We have scored 13 in the first 11 matches, but we are currently scoring at a rate of about 1.625 per game. If Arteta can keep that pace going, we will score ~57 goals this season (1.625*27 remaining games = 44 goals + 13 goals already scored). This season does look to be slightly unusual because of the number of competitive teams out there, so it’s possible that West Ham will drop out of top four, leaving a hole for Arsenal to fill IF we don’t get pipped to that place by Man U.

Man U are a mess, however. So, I’m not putting much credit in their top four challenge. We also have to admit that Spurs are going to probably look a lot more competitive, maybe? I haven’t written about this but I wonder what happens when the irresistible force (Conte) meets the immovable object (lads, it’s Tottenham)? I think they cancel each other out. So, I’m also not putting much money on them getting back into the top four race.

The trick for Arsenal is that we need to keep scoring at our current rate. This has to not be an illusory blip or just the result of playing the easiest part of our season and instead Arsenal have to be doing all the things that pundits are suggesting that we are doing; that this club has actually turned the corner and that this is our new normal. If so, I think we have a better than 20% chance of cracking top four but that’s still a low % chance.

A few more talking points.

Since Xhaka got injured Arsenal haven’t lost. We should sell him when he returns and use the money to buy another midfielder. We don’t need him. We play much better without him. The midfield looks both nimble and solid. I have been saying that Xhaka was the cause of Arsenal’s problems since year one and it’s far beyond time to cut loose. Harsh? I suppose.

And hey look, I’m also willing to admit when I’m wrong.. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been resurrected by Mikel Arteta and he can play in midfield. I always thought his touch was poor (it seemed to be equal parts amazing and poor, nothing in between) but he’s gotten away from kicking the ball 10 yards and then catching up to it with his speed. He can tackle and play deep when needed and can cover for Tavares when the Portuguese “defender” marauds forward. Yesterday was one of his best ever games in an Arsenal shirt. And judging by how much Arteta is lavishing praise on him this morning (for his intelligence and desire to learn) I hope he continues to grow and gets more game time.

I will also hold my hands up and say I got the Pepe thing wrong. I wanted Arsenal to buy him (instead of Zaha) the summer that we did buy him and even put together this wonderfully long post about how good he really is. It looks to me like he’s a bust at this point. Doesn’t mean he can’t turn the beat around but it’s going to take epic (Maitland-Niles level) hard work on his part. He just doesn’t look like a player who we need at the moment. He could be a valuable bench guy: bring him on when we need a late goal or as a victory cigar. But I don’t see him as a viable regular starter for Arsenal. Saka is just so much better.

I’m also willing to gloat when I get things right! I guess I’ve already done that with the Xhaka thing but there’s one more: Emile Smith Rowe! I told y’all that my man was going to have a good season and sure enough he’s already out the gates with 4 goals and 2 assists in just ten per90s. Last season he had 2 goals and 4 assists in sixteen 90s. If he continues on his current form, he could easily break the 10 goals threshold that we want/need from a midfielder.

Now, Saka.. what we need is for Saka to get a rest, stop playing/training for the England team which broke him this summer and get back healthy for the Arsenal and for the rest of the season. I also predicted that he would have a good season and double his output from last season. So far that hasn’t happened but he’s getting closer every match. He is finally looking a bit healthy (which sucks that he’s going to the England camp) and had a goal chalked off for offside (rightly) but the fact he’s getting into those positions is the good part.

Ok, so that’s a lot and a lot of controversy in there. I guess I’ll see you in the comments.


*Which we shouldn’t be doing because trees store carbon and we need to be finding ways to store as much carbon as possible so that there can be a future for my son!


  1. Just left a very long-winded comment in the last post (which was excellent btw – your post, not my comment!) in which I defended Arteta. Yes, hard to believe, but i have been convinced not just by the results but the style of play and the energy all of the players are showing. AMN, Laca, Xhaka and even Auba all could have checked out by now. But they are playing with fire and energy in every game. That’s no small feat for any manager, given everything we’ve been through.

    Your point about our defensive improvement shouldn’t be minimized. The numbers show we are more solid, and watching Gabriel, White (who had a very strong performance yesterday), Tomi and Ramsdale, I feel more relaxed than i have in several years. There just isn’t a walking minefield on the pitch every match for the first time in years. Between Mustafi, Xhaka, David Luiz, Kola or Cedric, every match I used to assume we were one moment away from a disastrous error or red card. It’s so refreshing to watch matches without that dark cloud hanging over me.

    We have a long way to go, but I saw Scott’s XG differential maps, and if you watch them as an animation, we are clearly moving toward the upper right over the course of the season. We are seeing goals from set plays, goals from crosses, a through ball here and there, and some nice interplay in the box. Not the cross and hope attack we had last season.

    I too have to take some lumps about being so anti-Arteta and start giving him some credit where it’s due.

  2. I still can’t quite get there with you on Pepe, but we’ll see…excellent points otherwise.

    1. Yes, it’s a long season and we will need everyone to play their part. Pepe can win games on his own, and that’s nice option to bring off the bench or use as an alternate!

        1. Yea like when he scored 2 freekicks in a match! He’s had a few really impressive moments. The problem is they tend to be moments, even in matches he provides the deciding difference. He’ll frustrate for 80 mins then score a goal that leaves your jaw on the floor.

  3. Improvement is incremental. Change management is painful and long. Arsenal are on a good path and I trust them to stay there. Control what we can control and let the chips fall where they may. I will judge the season based on whether we can keep this solidarity and incremental progress going, not so much on our exact finish in the table. In other words, I’d rather be good than lucky because of what that will mean for the development of this group as a unit. We have the ingredients, now we need them to combine and set.

    1. Agreed Doc, and now I also think our roster is so much stronger and better positioned to succeed regardless of manager. Even if we aren’t top 4 this year we are building a squad that can get there, and maybe beyond.

    2. I actually was revolted by Arteta’s interview in which he talked so much about unity. His vision of a harmonious team is dictatorial.

      In my line of work disagreement is healthy. Being wrong about things is a way to grow and learn. And having everyone agree on everything (which is sort of what he was saying would make us almost unstoppable) is a sign that something has probably gone wrong.

      It’s also – coincidentally, I’m not saying he’s a white supremacist – part of white supremacy culture. This idea that people shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable and that disagreement is bad. People should be made to feel uncomfortable, disagreement is good, and unity shouldn’t be enforced.

      1. You’re scaring me Tim. I’m pretty sure this is just the same tried and true leadership rhetoric that everyone everywhere tries to do, but it’s actually working at Arsenal. I don’t think there’s any nefarious propaganda or suppression of free will happening at Colney.

      2. It’s not whether people disagree, but how they disagree. If they are disrespectful and make it hard for a coach to manage the team, the coach has every right to let them go or marginalize them. Arteta appears to have a low tolerance for insubordination, but I don’t think that makes him despotic or dictatorial. His embrace of AMN shows he is willing to work with players, and bring them back from the cold. What he won’t allow is drama. Arsecast mentioned MA8 saying something about not having big time sucks (which I assume meant Ozil, Guen, Saliba and WIllian. Only so many hours in the day. I get it.

        I think Arteta was thrown into chaos when he became coach. Unhappy players, executive disarray, and a team in a terrible run of form etc. He couldn’t let everyone act any way they wanted, especially if he felt it undermined his ability to coach and lead. For that moment, it was probably right to immediately marginalize the problem people. He now has a group of very loyal and committed players. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing if he calls that unity.

        1. “His embrace of AMN shows he is willing to work with players, and bring them back from the cold”

          Maitland-Niles prostrated himself publicly before the greatness of Arteta. Arteta didn’t bring him back into the fold, AMN is just doing everything MA8 says.

          He’s an utter dictator. That’s not really that debatable in my view. I actively dislike him and his personality and can’t stand watching his interviews. He’s always taking credit for the good and blaming everyone else for the bad.

          It’s not about “letting everyone do what they want” but there has to be a balance and I feel like he doesn’t even come close to a balanced approach. I think he’s just an asshole. The good news is that guys like that don’t last long in modern football – even if they are incredibly successful (like Conte and Mourinho) – so, he’ll be gone in a few years, max two more years. Unless he figures out how not to be such an asshole.

          1. I don’t often disagree with you but I don’t get this vibe at all. But there is a fine line between authoritative and authoritarian, and maybe he strays too close to the latter at times. It’s clear there was a lax culture at Arsenal for a long time and maybe this is how he changes it. Maybe that makes him more Fergie than Wenger, we’ll see how it plays out.

          2. I agree. The sociopathic neoliberal management speak, the nonsense about Unity. I’ve seen him as a political operator from day one.
            He’s a control freak, and while I don’t like that about Guardiola, that has more to do with his football- technical operators who do a version of programmed “creativity.” I don’t know if Galeano would have liked Guardiola’s style of football.
            With Arteta, there’s an intuitive feeling of distaste. Obviously that’s biased, and I personally liked him as a player. But I don’t watch football to be objective. I watch it for joy.
            The team is playing hard of late, and that makes it fun. I can tune out stuff off the pitch, starting with the technical area. Speaking of, did you see that ridiculous display by son of Kroenke the other day?

      3. Was this the comment you are referring to?

        On whether he believed he could turn things around…

        I always said that the thing that drive me in those moments, it was the unity and the sense of belonging in what we’re doing from the players and the staff next to me. If I didn’t see that, then probably I would have thought differently. That’s what was encouraging me every single day to bring the right energy to the place. And then lead them. It’s what I have to do.

        1. No, it was this:

          “Without unity you can’t achieve what we want to achieve and unity means every person that works in the organisation, it’s our way of playing, it our way of transmitting, our way of playing, it is our way of transmitting our values, our way of connecting with our fans, our ownership is everybody, uniform, thinking in the same way, with the same purpose, without any individual agendas, without any egos, just that’s the task.”

          This is nonsense because I think conflict and individuality play a huge part in success. It’s also saying that there can be no criticism, no critical thought, everyone just needs to transmit the same message and if they don’t? Time to leave! I think this is why he doesn’t like Guendouzi, Saliba, or Ozil. It’s not that they aren’t good enough, he just wants mindless drones. And frankly that’s how we play football as well.

          It’s also nonsense because he’s the biggest ego of them all.

          1. I think sport is different from an academic or corporate environment. No team I can think of in any sport were successful because they were a brain trust, or because they had regular brainstorming sessions. That’s the job of the coaching staff, but in the end there has to be alignment.

          2. Huh… I guess you can’t think of the Arsenal Invincibles? Probably the best team I’ve ever seen and my favorite expression of the sport. I’m not a huge fan of dictators and technocrats.

          3. I’m finding this line of thinking upsetting and although I hate arguing on the internet in my old age, i feel I must interject here. You have your reasons for believing what you believe. I can’t and won’t take that away from you. What I can do is tell you what I believe and why I believe it and trust that you will listen with an open mind.

            I’m a pretty good judge of character. In life, I trust slowly if at all. My biggest reason for supporting Arsenal and sticking with them through thick and thin was that I loved and believed in Arsene Wenger. I absolutely trusted him to do right by Arsenal football club because quite simply the club was his life and was synonymous with his existence. I feel the same vibes towards Arteta. Like Wenger, he’s obsessive about football, he’s absolutely determined about how he wants to play, and he loves his players. Like Wenger in his early days, he will also absolutely ship out the players who don’t want to buy in to what they’re building together. I can understand if that looks authoritarian to some, but it’s neither unique to him or to Arsenal football club or to football. Everyone talks about culture and the impact of discipline and teamwork on success. I’m sure I don’t have to cite examples of other clubs building a team in their manager’s image, but if you look at the resume of any successful coach in any sport they will have chopped and changed their team until the pieces fit with each other and whole became greater than the sum of its parts. None of that is nefarious beyond player X moving from club A to club B, and it’s necessary if you want to win.

            But look, don’t believe me, believe his players. Believe the people who work with him. Nobody thinks he’s perfect, but the people who are right there next to him and who know him better than any of us believe in his leadership. You can see that in the way they interact with him, the way they speak about him, the way they respond to him. The Athletic recently published a lengthy article about Arteta’s Arsenal culture and how his players are buying in. Even some former players who were deemed not good enough endorsed him on their way out.

            And, lastly, the proof is in the pudding. Whatever the process is, it’s working. Anyone can beat anyone in this league and while I see people poo-poo our win streak because they were easy teams or something, you just don’t win this many points and go unbeaten this long without doing most of the things right most of the time. You just don’t do that with unhappy players, you don’t do it with players who feel suppressed or stifled in any setting, in any sport.

          4. “I see people poo-poo our win streak because they were easy teams or something, you just don’t win this many points and go unbeaten this long without doing most of the things right most of the time.”

            You saw me do it, in this post. We have taken three LESS points than we did over the same games last year. This is the easiest run we will have all season. I see that the dot com is running with a huge PR push right now hyping Arteta and that’s all well and fine because I guess now’s the best time to do that but when the bad results come (and they will) you can see the disunity in the squad. I for sure saw it in the first three matches of the season. It will come back.

            The reason everyone speaks highly of him is because if they don’t, they don’t play.

          5. I’m not sure what you mean about the invincibles as an example of differences of opinion and disunity leading to success. We didn’t have the ‘benefit’ of social media back then, but I don’t remember it.

            When I think of disunity I think of Adebayor and Bendtner butting heads. i think of Nasri being Nasri, and Ozil throwing subtle shade all the time. I think of Van Persie agitating towards the end, or even late Henry cowing young players with death glares whenever he didn’t get a pass. Or you know, Gallas.

          6. You’re thinking of conflict and unity in a very polar way. The Invincibles had a lot of conflict in the dressing room and on the training pitch, it’s in all of the books. They certainly didn’t cow to Wenger and openly challenged him when they disagreed. In fact, the older players (Henry, Vieira, etc) would have special meetings where they would work things out for themselves, without Wenger.

            I find the Arteta stuff dispiriting because he’s saying he can’t have any conflict but conflict promotes growth and change. Every match we play is a conflict. Every match is an opportunity to learn something. I get that he needs to be the coach and the leader and that’s all well and fine but it doesn’t have to be Bendtner and Adebayor butting heads level conflict or complete and utter unity, there are a lot of healthy ways to challenge each other.

            And look, he clearly doesn’t have the best ideas. He’s even changed his own approach to games over the last 18 months. And I guarantee that he challenges himself. But he needs to let others challenge him as well. If he doesn’t that’s his prerogative but he will find that ruling with an iron fist doesn’t last long.

          7. Believing that Arteta only wants and tolerates mindless drones, is pretty insulting towards every single player who has been or is being successful in this Arsenal squad, no?

            So AMN’s recent success has nothing to do with his own character, hard work, skill, application, self-belief and understanding of his role? He just switched off his personality and turned into a mindless drone? I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear that.

            Smith-Rowe and Saka, they’re mindless drones? Tierney? Ramsdale? White and Gabriel? Lokonga? We’ve got this raft of young, strong characters, you’re actually dissing these guys, I don’t get it.

            And this is just when we are starting to see the opposite on the pitch – leadership all over the place, confidence, self-belief and self-expression.

            The players who have not made it under Arteta have not made it for a number of different reasons, but in the end it’s because in his view their needs, interests and abilities were not aligned with the needs and interests of the club.

            When the players and the club are aligned, this is what creates unity. There is nothing in his statement on unity that implies that opinions, disagreements, personality or individuality are not tolerated, just that all of those things have to be reconciled with the needs of the team.

            He’s also stressing unity because, if you remember, when he arrived the team was in disarray, with dressing room hierarchy, cliques, leaks, fights, lack of real commitment or desire and some players demanding special treatment. It’s like night and day since then, and it hasn’t just been achieved with a big stick.

            I’m literally the most anti-authoritarian person I know in real life, and I don’t see in Arteta what you and others are seeing.

          8. And Tim, I’d argue that you are also seeing conflict and unity in a very polar way. Your argument in your 5.55am post could apply to yourself. Arteta never said “no conflict”, just that conflict should be resolved in favour of the group rather than individuals.

            Plus I don’t know where you get the idea that players are not allowed to disagree or have their own opinions. And player-only meetings? According to reports, players have already had their own meetings without Arteta, they had one after the Man City defeat. They asked for more help from the coaches. Doesn’t reflect well on Arteta’s coaching up until that point, but it doesn’t sound very dictatorial to me, and it doesn’t sound like they are being overcoached either.

          9. He actually did say no conflict and said that only through perfect unity would Arsenal reach his ideal. And said that if you’re not on board 100% with him and his unity you need to turn yourself around, drive home, and come back another day with a different thought.

          10. GREG: “….It’s like night and day since then, and it hasn’t just been achieved with a big stick”.

            You have no idea about the Arsenal dressing room culture. None whatsoever. And I doubt that you can identify what the other things were besides big stick. Players are happy when they’re winning.

            You and LAGUNNER are confusing results success and harmony. And LA, in particular, is proceeding on a lot of guesswork about the people who Arteta hasnt favoured (and, in the absence of solid evidence, being unfair to them).

            Let’s deal wit the facts in front of us, OK. This is the thing I dislike about internet debate. The need to go into camps, and go all-in when we do so.

            Fact: his treatment of Saliba (who’s done everything asked of him and more) is a head-scratcher.

            Baseless conjecture: It’s because Saliba was a problem player.

            I prefer to examine the public record of what Arteta has said, and note the gaping holes in his explanations. Don’t engage in conjecture favourable to the coach because you reflexively support him, or like him.

            Guys, even people we like and support do shitty things. It’s almost like some of you are new to the workplace.

      4. Precisely.
        Main reason why Arteta has been underperforming vi’s-a-vi’s the squad he has. The chorus in a dictatorial regime is hollow, and reason why Arteta gets such “ lucky” results.
        For example those accurate misses from Auba…

  4. I think top 4 is still highly unlikely, and I do think Spurs will become “good” again under Conte and possibly challenge for top 4, so we will have stiff competition even if United collapse. But, we’re on this run with the youngest team in the PL… that’s what is so cool. Really, we have so much upside.

    Lacazette might be getting a run, but if a decent offer comes for him in January we should sell and get even younger.

    I know Man Utd are sniffing around Tchouameni and sure, if we had £50m lying around to buy a stud 21 year old that would be ideal, but if they bring him in, wouldn’t van de Beek make a good (younger) replacement for Xhaka?

    1. I’m leery of high profile cast-offs from other teams, even if they’re still very young. Plus VDB doesn’t strike me as a midfield “controller” type that I think we need this summer. If I had to put my finger one area of greatest need for this team, it’s the ability to slow games down and just kill he game with the ball when we have a lead. Right now they seem to only have two gears: High and low. That’s natural at this stage but we too often slip in to low gear when we have the lead. When we do, it does put stress on the defenders. So far they’ve been equal to it, but the next step in our evolution will be to make the end of these games boring and predictable, and for that we need a metronomic midfield controller like Arteta was in his heyday with us. I’m thinking the club will opt for someone with a bit more experience for this role, although they might also see Xhaka as fulfilling that role in the squad. I personally think he does that better than we credit him, though it is a position that could be improved.

      1. i agree with you and doc concerning pepe and not throwing him out with the bath water. the kid is too talented. with that, i preferred zaha over pepe. the 13 league goals he scored in french football from open play didn’t make a believer out of me at that price point.

        as for lacazette, he’s always been effective, particularly in the past few years. i like him deployed behind the center forward and i suggested wenger play him behind giroud when he first arrived. it was his best route back into the french team as he wasn’t going to get back there ahead of giroud or gignac. however, he would have club chemistry with deschamps #9 that griezmann and payet didn’t. also, he could still lead the line; lacazette is a lyon product. i know everyone loves griezmann but i never saw the hype being legitimized. he’s okay but is he clearly better than lacazette? i don’t think so.

        1. I like Zaha a lot. He improves his team, flat out. He fights, he wins penalties (and scores them), wins fouls in dangerous areas, he’s strong on the ball and he’s a consistent goal threat. But it took him a while to find his feet as the player he is now. He had that expensive and disastrous stint at United where he was much like Pepe is now: an expensive niche threat. He developed his physical strength and found a team willing to build around his strengths. Now, you could probably plug and play him anywhere in the world, but he’s also 28 and no team is going to invest the tens of millions it would take to sign him since his trajectory is flat and downward. Palace also don’t need to sell and he’s a huge part of their team, so there he will stay.

          We have to unlock Pepe to the best of our ability. To me that means working on his physicality and his weak foot. The problem he has is that Arsenal’s future is occupying that preferred RW role. It’s a good problem where Arsenal are concerned. Neither player will feel secure and both will hopefully push each other to greater heights.

      2. van de Beek at Ajax was a controller – they were a possession first club and I think that’s the adaptation problem he’s had at Man United, they’re really a counter-attacking club and he’s not suited to lifting his head and launching long passes for Rashford, Greenwood et al. Agreed, cast offs are less than ideal, but his age and skill set fits the profile of player we might be looking for in midfield to replace Xhaka.

        (I don’t think AMN is that player btw, he’s another that is doing us a favor by looking good in games so we can potentially sell on)

  5. Arteta coaxed improvement out of Pepe in the latter half of last season, and he’s gone back to his frustratingly one footed play. He slows everything down, and cant whip in a right footed cross or squared pass to save his life. Which makes him a bad fit in THIS Arsenal team, which is a team of athletes. Everyone can run. Play fast. Which is also bad news for Xhaka.

    Tomi, Partey, Gabriel, White, Sambi, Tavares, Saka, Tierney, Emile, AMN, Auba and even Laca are all fast-paced players. That is a notable aspect of our recent play.

    This turnaround after that start is remarkable, and Mikel deserves all the plaudits for that. It is increasingly clear that we bought well last window. The start was so bad, that we’re still at net zero on GD. We need to tonk a few “weak” teams to redress that, because it could be decisive come season’s end.

    Really pleased for Emile that he has got his first senior call up for England. He is flourishing in Arteta’s setup. Ben White sent a message to Southgate on Sunday by playing really well. This is why I actually like the international break. It’s a chance to watch our players in a different setting… players including Gabriel, who has made the Brazil senior squad for the first time. I hope that he, Ramsdale and Emile get actual game time. Saka I expect to.

    Moyes WHam beat Liverpool, which was a shame. They’ll be looking to come back hard after the break. Unlucky us.

    1. “We need to tonk a few “weak” teams to redress that, because it could be decisive come season’s end.”

      We just played them. Burnley, Villa, Watford, and Norwich are 4 of the bottom-5 teams and Brentford is 14th.

      Which teams do we “tonk” if not them? I guess Newcastle?

    2. Liverpool have now conceded 11 goals. That’s just two less than us! Brentford scored three on them back in September, a very goal-shy Brighton scored two last match day and then West Ham with another triple yesterday. My gut says we’ll get a spirited scoring draw but of course they’ll still be big favorites at home.

      1. Doc, I almost feel like this comment is someone else trolling you and your optimism.

        So they’ve conceded 2 goals (almost 20%) less than us. And they’ve scored 18 goals (240%) more than us. And you’re predicting a draw? At their home ground?

        I’d love to eat some humble pie / my hat etc in 11 days time but I can only assume you must think this Egyptian guy, what’s his name? is a flash in the pan?

    3. Tim, Im engaging in a bit of hopeful thinking there. A 5-0 against someone probably wont happen.

      Doc, hope youre right, sir. This could be our opportunity. The odds on them having back to back bad/ indifferent games give me pause. We’re playing well. We should approach the game thinking that a result is gettable.

      1. We definitely have to show up like we belong with them or we have no chance.

        I approve of the word tonk any and all tonking by the way.

  6. Laca. Is he playing out of his skin for Mikel, or is he a player who is out of contract in the summer and needs to put himself in the shop window? You decide.

    I’m with Jack. Sell if you can in Jan. Refresh and retool. We are congested at forward, and Eddie will have to probably go as well.

    Pleased for AMN. Like to see a lad coming through the ranks and succeeding. We have solid cover for when Partey and Elneny leave for AFCON. Imagine that we barg noticed the absences of Xhaka and Partey, our first choice CMs.

    1. Of course contract is a big motivator, Claude – fair play. But Laca is being asked to play a false 9. Lots of prima Donna’s out there who don’t play along with that, and don’t run their a$$es off like Laca. He’s also been cited by ESR as a strong influence and partner. Kudos to Laca but Mikel has to get some praise for making this happen.

      1. I agree.

        Another motivator was warming the bench… which he had been doing till he seized his chance when given an opportunity, and made himself undroppable.

        The tactical tweak was a front 2 with Emile wide left — a good one. And credit where due… Auba is working damn hard up front too.

        1. i agree with lagunner saying that many 9s wouldn’t want to be redeployed out of their primary position.

          however, i disagree with your notion that warming the bench was motivation. lacazette has been very effective when he played. the question is why did arteta think it was a good idea to not play lacazette sooner after he came back from covid?

          bottom line, when lacazette plays, arsenal look a better team. last year, we noted the impact that smith rowe brought to the team but i think it was more smith rowe’s mobility and lacazette’s creativity combined. it’s when arteta got arsenal out of the bottom 3 last season and this season (i know arsenal weren’t bottom 3 last year).

          1. How could bench warming NOT be motivate a player? 😄

            Do you realise that he was a sub didn’t start, like, 6 or so of the 11 games for us? Give or take.

            That said, it shows character when a player seizes his chance and says, “drop me now if you dare”

          2. i was saying i don’t think lacazette needed motivation. the first few games, he was out for covid and arsenal lost all of those games. lacazette came off the bench against crystal palace and they had no answer for him. he changed the game and got arsenal a point in a game patrick vieira’s men didn’t deserve it. btw, how do you like pv4 now?

            the real question is why, after he’d recovered from covid, didn’t arteta play lacazette? only he can answer that question but, for me, it defied logic. with that, i respect the fact that arteta and i have different opinions, as i would have extended lacazette a year ago and auba would be playing left striker. however, i’m just a dude on a forum talking trash with you.

          3. That’s not what you said, but never mind.

            EVERY benched player is motivated when give an opportunity to play. Particularly a senior one used to starting. You’ve coached the game. You should know that.

    2. this posted higher up in the wrong place…it was supposed to be a reply here.

      i agree with you and doc concerning pepe and not throwing him out with the bath water. the kid is too talented. with that, i preferred zaha over pepe. the 13 league goals he scored in french football from open play didn’t make a believer out of me at that price point.

      as for lacazette, he’s always been effective, particularly in the past few years. i like him deployed behind the center forward and i suggested wenger play him behind giroud when he first arrived. it was his best route back into the french team as he wasn’t going to get back there ahead of giroud or gignac. however, he would have club chemistry with deschamps #9 that griezmann and payet didn’t. also, he could still lead the line; lacazette is a lyon product. i know everyone loves griezmann but i never saw the hype being legitimate. he’s okay but is he clearly better than lacazette? i don’t think so.

  7. i grant officials the latitude to be human. i remember when the idea of var was in it’s infancy, wenger used to say, very specifically, that the officials “need help”. he didn’t often accuse them of corruption or incompetence. i think he had a healthy respect for how difficult the job was.

    the danny rose challenge on lacazette was reckless but i don’t think it was intentional. is there an actual law banning reckless challenges? yes. do i think he deserved to be sent off? i don’t know and there’s the rub. it’s all subjective. if i were an official, i don’t think i would have sent him off but i certainly would have booked him because it was reckless.

    for me, top 4 is a champions league place and is reserved for teams competing to win domestic championships. when arsenal were trying to win the league, they never had to worry about finishing in the top 4. however, when top 4 was declared a “trophy” by wenger, the standard was lowered and it became more difficult to qualify for the champion league. when you’re trying to finish first and you fail, finishing 3rd, you’re still in top 4. however, when you’re trying to finish 4th and you fail, you finish 6th. bottom line, arsenal should be trying to win the league this season if they want to play in the champions league next season.

    arsenal’s biggest conundrum is still the same in my opinion. lacazette was the key last year and he’s still the key. if he doesn’t play, arsenal aren’t nearly as potent in attack. his game is epitomized by the saka goal that was disallowed. back to goal, his first touch away from pressure was class…and he knew exactly where saka was. auba can’t do that. i think laca should be deployed as a center forward and auba moved to left striker and emile as the cam.

    likewise, emile’s mobility is undeniable. everyone should take notice. he has this pires-like quality where he’s johnny on the spot. his last two goals have been because he happened to be in the right place at the right time with two 1-time finishes. pires’ instinct to be in those places in those moments is why he was such a goal threat. where’s bill to tell us about the kid’s history scoring league goals?

    1. I believe the lingo is “endangering an opponent.” As opposed to a yellow card which is “serious foul play.” Obviously open to interpretation. I think Tim’s point is a solid one; we usually see that type of foul result in serious punishment, regardless of the sport. Add that one to the NOT EVEN A YELLOW hall of fame next to McArthur’s off the ball dislodgment of Saka’s standing leg.

      You know what I love though? We are still winning despite these things. Not feeling sorry for ourselves with disallowed goals, missing big chances or penalties, just playing on and doing what it takes.

  8. another point claude, concerning lacazette. who’s going to buy a 30-year old striker with less than 6 months to run on his contract? likewise, why would laca leave in january when he can leave on a free in the summer and get a signing bonus? likewise, who could arsenal possibly bring in during the january window that would replace the quality of lacazette?

    potential answer: manchester city. i told you guys early in the season that city would struggle after they failed to sign harry kane and cristiano ronaldo; untypical for city. likewise, i told you guys that there were a few of europe’s top teams that lacazette would improve. man city was one of the teams i mentioned. will city bid for him in january? maybe. would he go to city? yep. the opportunity to win the league, the champions league, and maybe make the french team for the world cup next year may be too big a chance to turn down. likewise, city will pay him handsomely and he has no competition for his place. city are actually rumored to be interested in him. will it happen? we’ll see.

  9. here’s my 2 cents on why Saka should always start ahead of Pepe in this system. If you watch Saka he is prepared to go down the line on his right foot. He does it enough to make the defender hedge which gives him that extra time to separate himself from the defender. Pepe does not like to do this. What Pepe likes to do is feign to go down the line but he will always slow down and try to get on the inside which is why defenders always seem to stick with him. Robben is analogous to Pepe in certain respects but Robben had much quicker reactions and agility and foot speed and, dare I say higher football IQ so he could go on the inside even though the defender knows what is going to happen they aren’t quick enough to respond. For this reason i think Pepe should only play on the left. He needs to be out of his comfort zone and his instincts to get in the box means that he would come inside regularly enough to give the defender more to think about.

  10. Why are folks even talking about top 4? Unhealthy.

    Sell Xhaka, absolutely.

    Sell Pepe, absolutely.

    Arteta has a small track record of improving players. I’d like to see him try his had with guendouzi.

    If AMN can retain that level, we can get rid of Elneny. Bring in one MF to replace him and Xhaka, integrate AMN in rotation.

    Why are folks even talking about top 4? Unhealthy.

  11. There was a free kick around the corner area where both Saka and ESR were standing over it and that was absolutely heart warming.

  12. Enjoyed this post Tim. You seem fired up

    Not even the most hopeless optimist could have predicted 20/24. A significant turnaround. For the first time since the FA cup win genuine reasons to be cheerful. The recent ‘form’ of roughly 2 PPG was last achieved under Emery. It’s taken a long, long time to get here.

    It’s been a gentle schedule and there hasn’t been a dominant performance. The current setup seems to have been stumbled on after two years of experimentation (some of which was beyond bizarre). What will happen when the going gets tough? Will he revert to his very defensive mind-set? I’m looking forward to seeing this team tested against a rival for the top spots.

    The goal has to be to finish the season ahead of Solskjaer and Conte.

    1. Sorry Doc.
      I just can’t entertain the negativity– when I’ve been enjoying what I’m seeing from this team.
      If others can’t find their way forward to enjoy when the club is running good? It’s on them. Predicting that it’s all going to decay and rot– is the antithesis of backing a team.

      This denial of anything positive among many– began in earnest in June and has romped unabated for months now. Sometimes this place reminds me of LeGrove circa 2016. Hell, even LeGrove has been penning positive pieces about the team and Arteta.

      Even when Emery started to run the team over the edge– I never wanted, or hoped, or predicted that it ought all fall apart. When that season was over though? And Sanllehi wanted to re-up Emery for another 2 years– is when I got upset. Emery had lost the players. He had no chance of righting the ship.

      Now? It’s du jour to complain about the quality of the teams we haven’t lost to. Wow.

      So? I just scan for the comments here worth a grin or a nod.😊
      Shirt-can the ones that aren’t.
      And– continue to enjoy watching this season unfold.

      1. Please don’t do the antithesis-of-backing-a-team argument. It’s virtue signaling, and doesn’t make much sense. I’m watching the team and I back the team. I’m not hoping for losses, etc. but you know what? Don’t tell me how to be a fan.

      2. Dude, don’t smear me with the Le Grove thing. They ran a xenophobic hate campaign for 8 years against Arsene Wenger, I merely dislike Arteta’s management and think the team isn’t quite performing as well as some other folks do.


  13. I agree with Tim this much: I’m sure there are lots of people trumpeting our top 4 challenge (part of the usual hype/fall media dynamic that sells clicks) but 5th or 6th is roughly where we are, and it would take continued improvement over the season and a bit of luck to sneak in to the CL spots.

  14. I laughed out loud at your description of heading bricks. I played centerhalf during the days of real leather footballs (“Real leather for Real Men”) which, for those of you old enough to remember, would soak up the cold English February rain/mud mix to create something with the mass of a fully-stuffed Thanksgiving turkey. If you kicked it off the end of your foot it could literally dislocate your ankle, and going up for a header from the goalie’s long clearance was an exercise of pure dread, knowing the impact was going to compress your cervical vertebrae a full inch and force brainstuff out your ears…

    My 2 cents on the authoritarian issue: I love football because it thrives on the split-second creativity of players on the field. For this you need (obviously) creative and skillful players given license to react to the fluid situations around them. But it also works best when the whole team is on the same page so players know what to expect from their team mates; there has to be some kind of structure that everyone buys into. MoanU are a great example of unstructured talent right now. I think we’re a bit “structure-heavy”, and I find it hard to watch our endless recycling of the ball around the back four while waiting for openings higher up the field, but that seems to be the way the game has gone thanks to Pep’s success over the years with the ultra-possession style he promotes. But he also has access to the very top players who can still create in micro-spaces. When other teams try to emulate this style, it just becomes possession solely to stop the other team from creating scoring opportunities. With Saka and Smith-Rowe and our other young guns I think we have a core of players who are starting to make use of our possession higher up the pitch but whether they can step up against better opposition has yet to be seen.

    It’s probably trite to say it but the key to “team unity” is results; players want to win and as long as we keep moving up the table the players will buy in to Arteta’s unity dictatorship. Fergie was an SOB but his players loved him ‘cos they were always in with a shout for trophies; Arsene’s players gave up on him when we dropped out of the top four. If (when?) we start to struggle again, keeping the kumbaya in the dressing room will be the big challenge for Arteta… just ask Arsene or Emery. It will be interesting to see how we perform against the better teams going forward and while top four is probably unrealistic, I’m hoping that the talent we have and the fight we’re showing will see us somewhere in the European spots. But then again I spent my youth heading stuffed turkeys…

  15. In terms of money spent Pepe might be the worst transfer in Arsenal’s history. The only thing that may save his Arsenal career is if Arteta uses him on the left where he can play like a normal winger. That way he can use his left foot to cross the ball or shoot across. On the right wing, his right foot is too poor to beat defenders on the outside and the defenders know that. In fact, whenever the ball reaches him I assume a goal kick and it happens. When he is defending he stands in a position where is neither covering the opponent full back nor pressing in midfield. He simply lacks the footballing intelligence, in my opinion, to play as an inverted winger. The best we can expect of him is a Walcott like role where is is allowed to use his pace and left foot to assist others in the team score.


    (Headline at Arseblog.)

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